Moreau takes prologue. Armstrong finishes third.

The prologue of any three-week tour is unlike any of the other stages. On Saturday, the Tour de France’s 21 teams were cloistered together in the parking lot of the municipal swimming pool in Dunkirk, with riders spending most of their day hanging around the team buses, warming up, shuttling back and forth from team hotels, and smiling for the media. Crowds gather around each team’s area, which is marked off by police tape. And judging by the masses gathered around the U.S. Postal and Telekom camps, there are two overwhelming favorites for this year’s Tour: American Lance Armstrong and German

By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer

Armstrong was relaxed and confident.

Armstrong was relaxed and confident.

Photo: Graham Watson

The prologue of any three-week tour is unlike any of the other stages. On Saturday, the Tour de France’s 21 teams were cloistered together in the parking lot of the municipal swimming pool in Dunkirk, with riders spending most of their day hanging around the team buses, warming up, shuttling back and forth from team hotels, and smiling for the media. Crowds gather around each team’s area, which is marked off by police tape. And judging by the masses gathered around the U.S. Postal and Telekom camps, there are two overwhelming favorites for this year’s Tour: American Lance Armstrong and German Jan Ullrich. At the prologue, though, the top French rider from last year’s Tour, Festina’s Christophe Moreau, stepped into the spotlight by covering the flat, 8.2km course in the fastest time of the day, 9 minutes 20 seconds. ONCE’s Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano was second, three seconds behind, while Armstrong and Ullrich were right behind, in third and fourth place.

On Saturday morning reconnaissance rides on the prologue course, the Tour teams were treated to wet, rainy conditions, which would have demanded caution from race favorites such as Armstrong and Moreau. However, by the 4:00 p.m. start, the course was dried out, despite gray clouds that still loomed overhead in the seaside town on the northern tip of France.

The reports coming back from the early starters were fairly consistent. The course was flat and non-technical, and the effort was all-out.

“They’re good corners, they’re good surface,” said Crédit Agricole’s Jonathan Vaughters. “I mean, you can go for it. Basically what I said to [teammate] Jens [Voigt] was if there was something to crash on in those corners, I would have crashed on it, because I dove right into it.

“The fact that I’m up, and don’t have any broken bones, means you can pretty much go for it in the corners,” he added jokingly.

Click here for the rest of today’s Tour coverage.